“He would have guarded the door himself and put to death
every one that endeavored to make their Escape.” i
Since the 1580s when the English first landed in North
America the southeastern Native population has been seen
and imagined in a variety of ways. By 1607, and the founding
of James Town, English perceptions had developed into two
interlocking views. The first saw southeastern Natives as
helpful and generous while the second viewed them as
devious and dishonest. However, for both groups “lurking
beneath the surface” was the “anticipation of violence,” a
belief that would be confirmed by the 1622 Powhatan
confederacy attack on James Town. ii
From the founding of James Town, and more explicitly
the development of tobacco as a staple crop in the later
seventeenth century, the British increasingly began to
envisage the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean as a location
for permanent settlement. By the early eighteenth century, the
British population had been exposed to over a century of tales
from the new colonies, had pored over maps of the region,
and on several occasions had the opportunity to encounter
southeastern Native Americans when they visited Britain.iii
This increasing knowledge of southeastern space and its
people combined with the “growing quantifying spirit of the
eighteenth century” led to a belief that the Native people of
the southeast, now well known, and the space they inhabited
could, and importantly should, be subjected and incorporated
within the British Empire.iv
This chapter examines this belief through the activities of
one individual’s experience. The story begins not in the hills
and mountains of the southeast but rather in the city of
Edinburgh, Scotland, where on December 18, 1691 Alexander
Cumming was born.v Twenty-eight years later in 1729,
Cumming “was induced, by a dream of Lady Cumming, to
undertake a voyage to America, for the purpose of visiting the
Cherokee nations.”vi From these peculiar beginnings came
one of the strangest moments of British-Cherokee interaction
that ended with seven Cherokees in the court of King George.
This is the view of a British visitor who only briefly visited
Cherokee space, indeed long-term traders were both shocked,
and fearful of the response, to his actions. His interaction
with, and view of, the Cherokee was pursued with what one
historian refers to as “tourist enterprise,” and took place over
a four-week period in 1730. Cumming is an ideal subject to
explore the British imagining of the Cherokee.vii
While the full manuscript of Cumming’s Journal is now
unfortunately lost, it was published in two sections in The
Daily Journal, a London newspaper, upon his return to
England. viii The first section, published in September, 1730,
was an overview, detailing in broad strokes the daring deeds
of Cumming leading up to his arrival in London with seven
Cherokees, claiming to be the appointed leader of the
Cherokee nation. The second report, published the following
month, gives a more detailed day by day description of his
travels.ix Walking with Cumming as he took his journey into
Cherokee space allows us to uncover the moments where the
British imagination and understandings of southeastern
Native Americans were used to inform understanding of the
unfolding events. This chapter will also show how the
Cherokee reacted to, and made sense of Cumming’s arrival.
In a period when the contest for control of what Herbert
Eugene Bolton has termed the “Debatable land” of the
southeast any statement of spatial control was viewed not
only as a geographical but also as a political success. x The
publication of Cumming’s Journal, and the widely publicized
presence of the Cherokee who accompanied him, reassured
the British public of their country’s position strength in the
region and also allowed the British government to solidify its
relationship with the Cherokee. The combination of public
and political recognition assured that in the eighteenth century
the trip was seen as a moment of great success for British
colonial ambitions.
Over time Cumming’s position has been interpreted
differently. During the nineteenth century historians ascribed
Cumming the role of official ambassador from the British
crown, something that Cumming himself had denied in his
journal.xi More recently, he has been viewed as nothing more
that an oddity, “a one-man firework display wildly emitting
sparks and colored lights and blazing rockets” whose arrival
coincided with the earliest steps towards contemporary
Cherokee state formation.xii I propose to re-introduce
Cumming as an important part of early eighteenth century
Cherokee-British interaction. To show a moment when the
British imagining of the southeastern Native American
population prompted an attempt at political and spatial
domination. An attempt concurrently viewed by the Cherokee
through their own interpretation of the other, in this case the
British. A moment when differing interpretations of colonial
interaction are brought into sharp relief.
Arriving in Charles Town in December 1729 and using his
title as collateral, Cumming convinced the colonists that he
possessed great wealth and proposed to “settle in Carolina,
and do wonderful Things for the Good of the Country.” xiii To
solidify his position, and signal his intent to assist the people
of the colony, he began to write promissory notes which “by
his punctual Payment of them upon Sight, in a little Time they
acquired a Credit and Currency equal with Money.” With this
secure footing, Cumming began to expand his financial
dealings within the colony, buying “several large
Plantations.” In addition he opened a loan office, issuing
more notes bearing a ten-percent interest payment. Using the
money gained from these several ventures, he was able to buy
an “abundance of Gold and Silver and a great Deal of
Country Produce which he shipt away continually.” With his
financial and social position secured, Cumming was able to
draw on the help of several of the leading traders and
merchants to furnish his journey among the Cherokee. xiv
On the afternoon of March 13, 1730, at “about five,”
Cumming left the home of Mr. James Kinlock at New
Gilmerton, South Carolina, in the company of Indian trader
George Chicken and Surveyor George Hunter, and headed
into Cherokee country. Three days later, Cumming and his
companions, who now included William Cooper, “a bold
Man, and skilled in the Cherrokee Language”, traveled to an
underground cave near the home of a Mr. Coxe. Here is an
early indication of Cumming’s desire to leave his mark in
South Carolina, in this case literally. xv Cumming informs us
that “Mr. Chicken, and Mr. Coxe, made several marks to
show that they had been there.” Not content to enter just his
own name, Cumming branded the cave, and symbolically the
land, for Britain engraving “King George II of Great Britain,
wrote by S.A.C.”xvi By leaving this mark, Cumming was
attempting to ensure that the space in which he stood became
known not only physically but was also conceived of as part
of British jurisdictional and intellectual space. This desire to
identify, fix and record is seen throughout the journey.
Whenever Cumming met an “Indian” he would “take his
name down in his book saying that he had made a friend of
him.” By this act Cumming has added each individual to the
knowledge and control of the British.
Over the next few days Cumming continued his journey
along the Cherokee Path, the main trading trail into Cherokee
Country. xvii Arriving at the Cherokee town of Keowee on
March 23, 1730, the true purpose of his journey was revealed
to both the Cherokee and his traveling companions. Over
dinner in the house of one of the town’s traders, Cumming
was informed that there recently had been “Messengers from
the lower Creeks, with the Cherokees, desiring them to come
over to the French Interests.”xviii Cumming suggests in his
journal that this warning reinforced the danger that he was
under and the bravery he showed in his journey. However this
warning provided the catalyst that forced Cumming’s next
action. As a self-conceived ambassador, acting, in his own
mind, on behalf of Britain to visit, define, mark, and thereby
control the Cherokee nation, Cumming was forced to act by
the threat of French incursion into the region. His response to
the news is demonstrated in the events that unfurled in the
Keowe Town House that evening.xix
The Town House was full, with a reported 300 hundred
Cherokees in attendance as well as nine British traders.
Cumming entered and waited patiently while the Town’s
leaders spoke before making his own speech. xx Cumming
began by informing the Cherokee who he was and that he had
come as an individual citizen, not as an official ambassador
on behalf of King George. He then proposed a toast to the
King during which he hoped, if not demanded, that all others
would pledge their loyalty and allegiance to King George.
After encouraging the shocked traders to fall to their knees,
he turned to the Cherokee and, revealing the four firearms and
the cutlass he had under his cloak, demanded that the “head
Warriors… acknowledge his Majesty King George’s
Sovereignty over them on their knee.” Joseph Cooper, a
trader who was the evening’s interpreter also, declared:
If he had known before hand what Sir Alexander
would have order’d him to have said, he would not
have ventured in the Town-House to have been
Interpreter, nor would the Indian Traders have
ventured to have been Spectators, believing none of
them could have gone out of the Town-House without
being murdered, considering how jealous that People
had always been of their Liberties. xxi
Cumming and his contemporaries leave us no description
of the Cherokee reaction to this alarming episode, although as
all the British lived through the event we must assume that
some form of accommodation was met. For Cumming,
situated within the British spatial and political understanding,
the meeting represented the conquest, or at least the first step
in that process, of the Cherokee nation for the British crown.
In Cumming’s mind, the Town House was no longer a
location for the meeting of Cherokee people to discuss and
debate the affairs of their Town and through clan affiliation
the broader Cherokee nation; the space was now the site
where British political authority and control had been
established. The Town House and the space it occupied now
personified Cumming’s, and through him Britain’s, control of
this Cherokee village. Cumming viewed the population of the
village as British subjects, informing them that if they failed
to submit to the king “they would become no people,” for any
population beyond British space had no fixidity and therefore
no existence.
Cumming’s intention to dominate the Cherokee is seen by
his response to trader Ludovick Grant. When asked what he
had planned to do if the Cherokees present had refused to
he [Cumming] answered with a Wild look, that . . .
if any of the Indians had refused the King’s health to
have taken a brand out of the fuire that Burns in the
middle of the room and to have set fire to the house.
That he would have guarded the door himself and put
to death every one that endeavored to make their
Escape that they might have all been consumed to
This statement, which worried the traders who heard it,
indicates that for Cumming there were only two positions
available to the Cherokee, to accept their position as
subservient members in British space or death.
To affirm his position and his claim of dominance over
the Cherokee, Cumming demanded a second meeting eleven
days later, on April 3, 1730, at the Cherokee Town of
Nequassee. Cumming informed the members of the Keowee
community that he expected that “one of their head Men
should bring full Power from the lower Settlements, another
full Powers from the upper Settlements, and the third full
Powers from the middle settlements.”xxiii In demanding
individuals to represent the physical regions of the whole
nation, Cumming planned to repeat his conquest of the single
village on a national scale.
For those Cherokee in the Keowee Town House on March
23, 1730, operating in a different political understanding, an
alternative interpretation of the events would be realized.
James Adair, a contemporary of Cumming, provides us with a
clue as to the Cherokee understanding. Writing of Cherokee
government Adair notes that:
They can only persuade or dissuade the people, by
their force of good-nature and clear reasoning, or
colouring things, so as to suit their prevailing passions.
It is reputed merit alone, that gives them any titles of
distinction above the meanest of the people.xxiv
What Adair saw as a lack of authority within the
administration of the Cherokee was actually a recognition that
each person’s voice and opinion could, and would, be heard
in debate. This belief in an egalitarian approach to politics did
not mean, however, that every point contained equal value.
As the quotation suggests certain people could gain a greater
degree of influence through their action or “merit.” This
opens up the possibility for someone with a proven history of
success, in warfare or negotiation, to rise into a position of
heightened influence, what Adair referred to as a “title of
Adair’s quotation also suggests that strength of argument
and oratorical skills played a large part in any debate. It is
therefore possible that an individual could, through force of
personality and argument, influence the policy of the Town.
Accepting that all people could be heard and that a powerful
debater could gain influence, is it possible that this was the
route that allowed Cumming to, apparently, dominate the
community of Keowee. Cumming’s behavior in Charles
Town prior to his journey into Cherokee space indicates that
Cumming had self-confidence and skills of persuasion, and
his willingness to make such a dramatic display of force in
the Keowee Town House suggests that he possessed
tremendous bravery and assumed great authority. Both of
which may have allowed him to assert power within the space
of the Town House.
If we view the episode at Keowee as an isolated and
individual event, the apparent submission of the Cherokee
appears puzzling, even allowing for Cumming’s oratory skills
and assertive behavior. However, if the events of the evening
of March 23, 1730 are placed into a broader view, based
within a Cherokee understanding, a different image begins to
appear. Although Europeans reported, and Cumming
believed, that by his actions he had ensured control and
domination over the Cherokees, in actuality Cumming had
been absorbed or adopted into Cherokee space.
The first step in understanding this alternate view of
Cumming’s involvement with the Cherokee focuses on the
role of negotiation with Cherokee political life. Cherokee
individuals involved in negotiations had authority, in a loose
sense, to represent the position of the larger group but no
authority to enter into additional negotiations or agreements
without further consultation with the larger group.
Cumming’s actions, therefore, must be reinterpreted in light
of this. Whereas Cumming saw his request at Keowee to
summon other Cherokee leaders, as an instruction to facilitate
a broader control, the Cherokee recognized it as an
opportunity to adjourn the negotiations and return to the
larger group to discuss the next step. For the Cherokee, the
single Town of Keowee did not have the authority to commit
the whole nation to a position of allegiance. The apparent
Cherokee acquiescence in the Keowee Town House on March
23, 1730, was in actuality a necessary step in their political
structure, that is, they deferred the negotiations until a larger
Cherokee group was able to convene and discuss Cumming’s
proposal. xxv
Working in tandem with the need for larger group
discussion was a second aspect of Cherokee political life, the
need for harmony. The Cherokee spatial and political system
had at its core the recognition that discrete places needed to
be combined through ceremonial means for life to continue.
Within political debate, this aspect of the spatial persona
played out through the pursuit of harmony. When harmony
was threatened, the deferral of decision making was a
common method of maintaining harmony. When involved in
negotiations the Cherokee deflected requests for immediate
resolutions instead choosing to withdraw, discuss, and return.
An example of the manner in which pursuit of harmony
through deflection operated can be found by turning to
another of Cummings’s contemporaries. On Tuesday January
14, 1725 at the Town of Tugoloo, Colonel George Chicken
met with representatives from several Cherokee Towns.
During the meeting Chicken put forward seven points for
discussion, which ranged from details of recent activity
among the Creek to the Cherokee relationships with the
English. The fifth point raised by Chicken, detailed below,
marked the beginning of the Cherokee process of decision
deferral. Chicken raised the subject of a standing Cherokee
army. He informed the Cherokee that:
“if you would but Consider Yourselves how Numerous
you are and how little you would Miss the drawing out
of each Town in the Nation a small Number of Men,
you would not talk of defending your Towns but
would Raise an Army of Men and Defend your
Enemies before they come Nigh your Towns.”xxvi
As the above quotation shows Chicken’s British origins
led him to assume that the logic of a single unified national
project, such as an army, would make sense and be acceptable
to the Cherokee. For the Cherokee, however, the need for
separate discrete spaces, such as Towns, each responsible for
their own defence, was the logical answer to the challenge of
external enemy attack. In order to preserve harmony within
negotiations where British and Cherokee views were clearly
divergent, and not going to be easily resolved, the assembled
Cherokee leaders attempted to defer a decision assuming that
Chicken would recognize and accept this tactic.
Initially the Cherokee promised to “all go and consult
together” promising to return later with an answer. Upon
further discussion the Cherokee informed Chicken that they
would take action upon his suggestion to send out scouts to
look for the enemy, but that with regard to the formation of a
national Cherokee army, they “had concluded to send to the
other Towns in order to meet them.” Chicken’s response to
this deferment was once more to push the concept of a unified
army. He informed the Cherokee that “unless they had a body
of men to go out against the enemy when they were
discovered that their Scouts would be of little Service to
them.” The Cherokee continued to defer a decision, while
Chicken again pushed for the creation of an army.
The Cherokee then attempted a different approach to
defuse and deflect the problem. They informed Chicken that
they accepted that “if the enemy comes on them before they
can gett a body it would not be the Englishes fault because
they have given them Notice of it.” Even with this assurance
that blame would not be apportioned to the English, an
important concession in a clan based society like the
Cherokee where culpability was a key factor in decisions of
retaliation. Despite this assurance Chicken still refused to
back off and once more pushed for a commitment to a
standing army. In a final attempt to deflect the decision,
driven, we must assume, by exasperation at Chicken’s
continued failure to recognize the correct form of negotiation,
the Head Warrior of Toxsoah agreed to go out and “gett what
men he could to goe along with him.” This final act allowed
for an acceptable solution to both parties. Chicken assumed
that this was the beginning of a national army with the Head
Warrior of Toxsoah as the commander, while the Cherokee
saw it as the promise of one man, not of the whole group.
Thus after several hours of negotiation, harmony was
restored.xxvii The use of decision deferment was one
intellectual tool available to the Cherokee during their
interaction with Cumming. A second involved the Cherokee
relationship to personal power.
Individual power for the Cherokee was not a fixed
attribute possessed inherently. Rather, it was a potential that
the correct behavior could reveal and incorrect actions could
remove. Power was therefore flexible and no one was able to
assess instantly how much power an individual might have.
Thus “overt deference and respect afforded the safest course
to follow in interpersonal relations. Such behavior minimized
the chance of giving offense and, perhaps, suffering hostile
repercussions.”xxviii Cumming’s actions, bringing weapons
into the Town House and demanding subservience, put him
outside the normal rules of behavior for Cherokee
negotiations. It made eminent sense for the Cherokees to
defer a decision and palliate someone behaving so
aggressively. Yet, these same actions suggested that
Cumming possibly possessed personal power or ulanigvgv.xxix
An event that occurred between Cumming’s stance in the
Town House of Keowee and his later “coronation” at
Nequassee suggested, from the Cherokee view, that Cumming
may have possessed great individual power. On March 27, as
Cumming entered the Town of Tassetchee “there happen’d to
be most terrible Thunder, Lightning, and Rain.” xxx One
European who had lived with the Cherokee for ten years in
the early eighteenth century reported that Cherokee perceived
thunder and lightening as bringing messages from spiritual
beings. Individuals who assumed themselves to be superior to
others and gave “themselves over to al sort of crulletie and
abominations” would be struck down by lightening as
punishment for their inappropriate behavior. However, if
lightening did not strike the offender but fell “hard by Them,”
then “that is a message” for others to “ammend thire lives and
To obay thire seperriors.”xxxi Cumming’s decision to take
guns into the Town house and demand the acquiescence of
the Cherokees present would appear to locate him as one
claiming undue prestige and superiority. Yet a Cherokee
reading of the meteorological events of the evening of March
27 when Cumming remained unscathed by the thunder and
lightening suggested that Cumming possessed strong spiritual
Cherokee caution regarding power combined with their
preference to defer decisions when unanimity could not be
reached suggest another was to understand the events
involving Cumming between March 23 and April 3, 1730.
Seen from a Cherokee perspective, Cumming neither
controlled nor dominated the proceedings. Instead, Cherokees
constructed a meaning and a place for Cumming that allowed
him to be respected but not accepted. They recognized the
potential Cumming held but did not ascribe him authority.
Rather, the Cherokees found a way within their political
understanding to defer any decision making to a later date.
After leaving Tassetchee, Cumming headed to Great
Tellico where he unwittingly describes an alternative set of
political actions being played out. The actions taken by
“Moytoy, the Head Warrior” shift Cumming’s journey from a
daring and aggressive act of British politics to place the
Cherokee within British space, to a move by the leader of one
Cherokee Town to politically adopt Cumming, thereby
creating a link between the Cherokee and the British. In the
process Cumming moves from being a King to being a pawn
of Cherokee politics.
Arriving at Great Tellico on March 29, 1730, Cumming
comments that he saw “a great many Enemies Scalps, brought
in and put upon Poles at the Warriors doors.” xxxii This is his
first mention of the martial prowess of the Cherokee. Two
interpretations can be made of this display. The first would be
to suggest that Cumming, influenced by the scalps, saw the
Town and its leader as a dominant force in Cherokee society.
That he would later position Moytoy as “Emperor of the
Cherokee” reinforces this view. The second interpretation is
the possibility that the scalps had been intentionally displayed
by the Town not to assert Moytoy’s primacy in Cherokee
society but to suggest his strength as a warrior. As a warrior
Moytoy was situated in the Cherokee space that dealt with
diplomatic relations with outsiders, thereby offering himself
as a suitable person to be the focus of interaction between
Cumming and the broader Cherokee polity. Cumming saw an
opportunity to assert British domination and control over the
Cherokee, whereas the Head Warrior, Moytoy, saw an
opportunity to create a link between the British and the
Cherokee through Cumming. It appears that both parties
viewed the meeting through the lens of their own political
During an initial meeting with Moytoy in the Great
Tellico Town House, Cumming is informed that there had
been discussion the previous year “among the several Towns”
of the Cherokee to make “Moytoy Emperor over the whole,
but that now it must be whatever Sir Alexander pleased.” xxxiii
With this statement Cumming drops his first hint that he
personally will assume a position of dominance among the
Cherokee, for if the man whom the Cherokee have already
considered for leadership is prepared to submit to Cumming,
then what apart from total dominance are the British to
The events that unfolded are, however, given a different
light when viewed through the Cherokee eyes. Any power
that Moytoy claimed was not to position himself as Principal
Chief among the Cherokee. Rather he sought to place himself
as the man who could control the potential power that
Cumming possessed and by that control form a link between
the Cherokee and British.xxxv The following day, March 30,
while still in Great Tellico, Cumming was involved in another
Cherokee ceremony, writing that he was “Particularly
distinguished in the Town-house by Moytoy, where the
Indians sung songs, danced, and stroked his Head and Body
over with Eagles tails.” This event was not included in
Cumming’s first published overview of his trip where he
included instead the later meeting at Nequassee on April 3,
thereby highlighting the perceived coronation. However, for
the Cherokee the March 30 meeting had great importance, for
it provided the first step in linking Cumming and the
Cherokee. By ensuring that the ceremony took place in the
Town House of Great Tellico, and by assuming a leading role
in the ceremony, Moytoy placed himself in the center of this
process and positioned himself to act as spatial ambassador of
the Cherokee.
The next major incident, and for Cumming the
culmination of his ascendancy to leadership of the Cherokee,
was the bestowing of the crown of Tannassy during his
alleged coronation. This occurred on April 3, 1730, at the
Town of Nequassee, where the “Kings, Princes, Warriors,
Conjurers, and Beloved Men were all met.”xxxvi Cumming
described the events in the Nequassee Town House in the
following terms:
Here with great Solemity Sir Alexander was placed
in a Chair, by Moytoy’s Orders, Moytoy and the
Conjourers standing about him, while the warriors
stroked him with 13 Eagles tails and their Singers sung
from Morning to Night, and, as their Custom is on
Solemn Occasions, they fasted the whole Day. xxxvii
Cumming informs us that he gave a speech during the
coronation proceedings in which he detailed the power of the
King and demanded the Cherokee’s submission. Additionally
he “ordered that the Head Warriors should answer for their
Conduct of the People to Moytoy, whom he appointed their
Head, by the unanimous Consent of the whole People.” xxxviii
For Cumming and his readers the image is clear. The
Cherokee at this moment became subjects of Britain and if
not totally controlled were at least no longer politically
outside the British political space. In order to give physical
presence to the events, Cumming collected not only the
signed affidavits of the British traders present but in addition
“as Evidence of the Truth of what had happened” brought to
London seven Cherokee.xxxix
Cumming’s actions on, and reaction and comments to, the
events of April 3 indicate the manner in which a British
spatial understanding, based upon fixidity and control,
operates within a political act.xl Cumming reached out from
British space, looking for an opportunity to act upon the
Cherokee, not to interact with them. At the first opportunity
Cumming used force in an attempt to dominate and control
the Cherokee, and as he continued his journey, he attempted
forms of control, meeting Cherokees and recording names,
fixing them in the record of his journey. Buoyed by early
success he pushed his reach further, demanding a meeting
with the leaders of the whole nation. At this later meeting at
Nequassee, Cumming considers himself to have been
crowned king of the Cherokee, thereby both securing his
position and more importantly fixing the Cherokee nation
within the British imagination. One of his first acts is to
dictate the structure of society and outline the political
relationship between the British and the Cherokee, ordering
“the head Warriors should answer for the Conduct of their
People to Moytoy, whom he appointed their head . . . and he
to answer to Sir Alexander.”xli
Historian Verner W. Crane correctly argues that the
Cherokee “had no real notion of acknowledging English
‘sovereignty,’” much less of parting with their lands to either
Cumming himself or to the “Great Man on the other side of
the water.” Nevertheless, it is clear that something of a
political and ceremonial nature did occur on this date. The
Cherokee did meet in national council and Cumming was
involved in some form of ceremony in front of the assembled
Cherokee. If the events do not portray Cherokee submission
to British authority then what do they represent?
Firstly, let us examine the importance and significance of
the national council at which Cumming claims to have
obtained sovereignty. The dramatic ceremony that Cumming
viewed as a coronation may not be as dramatic or as
singularly important as Cumming would have us believe. In
1725, five years before Cumming’s journey, Colonel George
Chicken traveled throughout the Cherokee nation. xlii Chicken
was not there to assert his control over the Cherokee but
rather to bring a message or “talk” from the South Carolina
authorities. Like Cumming, Chicken spent only a short time
in Cherokee space traveling from Town to Town before
speaking to a gathering of all Towns. Chicken’s actions
contradict Cumming’s claim that the meeting surrounding his
coronation was such a gathering as “never was seen at any
one time in that Country.” In fact it was not unusual for the
Cherokee to gather in large numbers to hear the “talks” of
British visitors. Chicken’s 1725 journey provides another
inconsistency in Cumming’s claims. Chicken describes his
own arrival in Keewhohee (the Town Cumming referred to as
Keowee}, in the following manner:
At my Arrival here King Crow and the head men
were out of the Town at their Plantations and a
Messanger being sent to inform them of my Arrival,
they Imediatly[sic] Repaired to the Town and soon
after, they after their Ceremonial way placed me in a
Great Chair in the most Publick Place in the Town and
set down by me themselv’s faning me with Eagles
The similarity between this ceremony and that which
Cumming experienced in Nequassee is obvious. Therefore,
we can suggest that the ceremony Cumming experienced was
not as he thought, a coronation, but rather an often-used
method to incorporate an external individual. It represented a
political adoption which allowed the Cherokees to form a link
to an external discrete space. Thus allowing the voice of that
outside space to be heard Additionally, Cumming’s
positioning of Moytoy as “Emperor” in order to verify British
control over the Cherokee is also open to a Cherokee
interpretation. Moytoy’s efforts can also be seen as his
attempt to place himself as the gatekeeper to contact with the
British. Moytoy did not declare himself sovereign over the
Cherokee, although the British would increasingly view him
as if he had, but that he offered himself as the person who
would sponsor Cumming’s interaction and linkage with the
Cherokee nation.
The final point to be made with regard to the ceremony of
April 3, 1730 concerns the artifact that gave Cumming’s
claim of coronation its greatest legitimacy, the crown of
Tannassy.xliv Cumming, in the published details of his
journey, mentions the crown and ceremony simultaneously
tying together the ceremony and the crown. However, a closer
reading of the events reveals that Cumming did not receive
the crown on the day of the ceremony, as his journal implied,
but on the following day, suggesting a separation between
event and artifact. There are other inconsistencies in the tale
of the crown and how it came into Cumming’s possession.
The quotation below, from Cumming’s initial overview report
of the journey, details Moytoy’s and the Cherokee’s
submission to Cumming and positions the crown as a symbol
of that capitulation.
April 4. The Crown was brought from great
Tannassie, which, with five Eagles tails and four
Scalps of their Enemies, Moytoy presented to Sir
Alexander, impowering him to lay the same at His
Majesty’s Feet.xlv
For the reading audience, this is a clear assertion that the
Cherokee are within the British spatial and political
knowledge as a people who are known and importantly
controlled by the British. The next quotation, taken from
Cumming’s later day-by-day account, offers a subtle but
important shift in the role of the crown.
April 4. The Solemnity continued, Sir Alexander
made some Presents, received their Crown, Eagles
tails, and Scalps of their Enemies, to be laid at his
Majesty King George’s Feet.xlvi
The crown has shifted position. It is no longer offered to
Cumming as a symbol of obsequiousness but rather as a gift
given after and in return for, “Presents” given to the Cherokee
by Cumming. This subtle movement in proceeding has turned
the object from a symbol of authority to a symbol of
reciprocal contact.
Examining the reports of other Europeans present at the
presumed coronation ceremony further complicates the role
of the crown. In his journal, Cumming suggests that as early
as March 30 the possibility of his coronation was raised,
writing that Moytoy and Jacob “determined to present him
[Cumming] with the crown of Tannassy.” xlvii This early
introduction of the supposed coronation reinforces
Cumming’s later claim of authority. A different explanation
comes from trader Ludovick Grant, who explains the crown’s
introduction in the following terms:
From Telliguo we rode over to Tannassee and
afterwards returned by Neguasse Where several
Traders met us and a good many Indians. Sir
Alexander had been informed of all the ceremonies
that are used in making a head beloved man, of which
there are a great many in the nation. They are called
Ouka, and we translate that word king, so we call the
Cap, he wears upon that occasion his Crown . . . Sir
Alexander was very desirous to see one of them, and
there being none at that Town One was sent for to
some other Town. He Expressed Great Satisfaction at
Seeing of it, and he told the Indians that he would
carry it to England and give it to the great King
Grant, who was with Cumming in both Great Tellico and
Nequassee, indicates that, rather than being discussed prior to
the ceremony of April 3, the crown was introduced at a later
date. Additionally, it appears that the Cherokees had no
intention of presenting the artifact to Cumming as a crown or
any symbol of authority, but rather that it was an
ethnographic artifact displayed only upon Cumming’s
Finally we must consider the role that physical geography
played in the events that occurred during Cumming’s journey,
exploring the role that different spaces played in the
Cherokees interaction with Cumming. The claimed
coronation takes place in Nequassee and Cumming asserts
that it is Moytoy, of Great Tellico, who performs the act. The
crown itself comes from a third discrete Town location,
Tannassee. This diversity of geographical location
involvement in the interaction between the Cherokee and
Cumming is expanded following Cumming”s supposed
coronation. On April 6, 1730, during his return to Charles
Town, Cumming informs us that they “proceeded to
Ookunny, where Sir Alexander found a House built for
him.”xlix Cumming will later claim that the house came with
“certain Territories there unto belonging as an
acknowledgement” of his position “as their Governor &
Lawgiver,” stating that additional space was assigned to him
“in every Town through which Sir Alexander had passed in
his journey throughout the mountains.” l This act, the linkage
between landholding and political power, would appear
logical in Cumming spatial understanding, as it matched the
associations seen within the system of hierarchical and
political control that operated in the Britain at the time.
The act of constructing a house for Cumming adds a
further aspect to the Cherokee understanding of Cumming’s
visit. By constructing a house for Cumming, in a Cherokee
Town, Ookunny, and in a Cherokee style, the Cherokee have
positioned and included Cumming in their physical and
intellectual space. They have created a way for Cumming to
have a stake in one of the two aspects of Cherokee national
membership: Town affiliation.
The positioning of Cumming’s residence in Ookunny,
which appears to be a village with ties to the Township of
Keowee, achieves two further objectives.li Firstly, it places
Cumming at the edge of Cherokee space in the region most
closely related to Charles Town, thereby increasing the ease
of communication between British and Cherokee space.
Secondly, it offers the intriguing possibility that Cumming
may have acquired some form of national Cherokee
membership, clan affiliation, for he now has links to the
Upper Settlements through Great Tellico and Tannasse, to the
Middle Settlements through Nequassee, and to the Lower
Settlements through Ookunny and Keowee.
Taking all these points together, we find that an incident
reported by an English traveler as a strong claim to European
action based on a spatial and political understanding of
control and domination is in fact a powerful display of
Cherokee authority. Cummings journey graphically details
the contrasting imaginating that the British and Cherokee had
of each other. Each group’s action and reaction were driven
by differing spatial and political understandings, with each
side comprehending the events in ways that made sense to
themselves while simultaneously being unable to understand
the other’s reality.
Historical Relations of the Facts Delivered by Ludovick
Grant, Indian Trader, to His Excellency the Governor of
South Carolina,” The South Carolina Historical and
Geneological Magazine, Vol. 10 (1909), p. 56
Nash, Gary B., “The Image of the Indian in the Southern
Colonial Mind,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series,
Vol. 29, No. 2 (Apr., 1972), p. 204.
For details of Native American visits to Europe see Prins,
Harald., “To the land of the Mistigoches: American Indian
Traveling to Europe in the Age of Exploration,” American
Indian Culture and Research Journal. Vol. 17 No. 1. (1993);
Foreman, Carolyn Thomas, Indians Abroad, 1493-1938,
(Norman, Oklahoma , 1943); Feest, Christian F. (Editor),
Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of
Essays, (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1999)
Frängsmyr, Tore, J.L. Heilbron, and Robin E. Rider., (eds.)
The Quantifying Spirit in the Eighteenth Century, (Berkeley,
In 1703 at the tender age of 12 Cumming was granted a
Captain”s commission in the Earl of Mar regiment by Queen
Anne and ten years later gained a Doctorate of Law from the
University of Aberdeen. Over the next few years Cumming
was to lead a company against the Jacobites in the 1715
uprising, turn down the Governorship of Bermuda, and in
1725, after his fathers death, became the second Baronet of
Culter. As the decade drew to a close Cumming”s eclectic
career included a failed attempt to enter Scottish politics and
admission to the Royal Society of London for Improving
Natural Knowledge. Biographical details from The Scottish
http://www.scottishtartans.org/cuming.html 22 February,
For details regarding the impetus for his trip see Lyons,
Daniel, The Environs of London: Being an Historical Account
of the Towns Villages and Hamlets, within Twelve Miles of
that Capital: Interspersed with Biographical Anecdotes,
Volume 4, (London, 1795-96), p.20
Crane, Verner Winslow, The Southern Frontier, 16701732, (Ann Arbor, 1956), p, 277. Cumming spent a total of
five months in the southeast arriving on December 6, 1729
and leaving on May 4, 1730. However, he was only among
the Cherokee between March 13, and April 13, 1730.
The Daily Journal, Number 3037, (Wednesday, September
30, 1730) and Number 3044, (Thursday, October 8 1730):
The Journal was reprinted in The Historical Register of 1731;
Note: Cumming refers to himself in the third person
throughout the text.
There is considerable overlap between the two reports;
however, the details left out of the first “claim to fame” piece
that appear in the daily journal enable us to gain a better
understanding of the events that unfolded.
See Bolton, Herbert Eugene, (ed.,) Arrendondo”s Historical
Proof of Spain”s Title to Georgia, (Berkeley, 1925).
For the claim of Cumming”s official role see: Stocqueler,
J.H., A Familiar History of the United States of America,
From the Date of the Earliest Settlements Down to the
Present Time, (London, 1865), p. 95; For his denial with
regard to any official sanction of his trip see The Daily
Journal, Thursday, October 8, 1730; For details with regard
to the question of Cummings sanity see J.H., “Sir. Alexander
Cumming”, Notes and Queries, Series 1, Vol. V. No. 125,
Steele, William O, The Cherokee Crown of Tannassey,
(Charlotte North Carolina, 1977), p. xiii. and Doyles English
Colonies in America Vol V
“Extract of a Letter form South Carolina, June 12”, The
ECCHO: or Edinburgh Weekly Journal, Number LXXXIX
(Wednesday September 16, 1730); see also The Grub Street
Journal, Number 36 (Thursday September 10, 1730)
Cumming returned to England shortly before payment of
his loans became due. After his departure, in an attempt to
recoup their money, several members of the Charles Town
community broke into his treasury. All they found inside were
“some empty Boxes, old Iron and other Rubbish” and it was
“computed” that he carried off “no less than £15000 sterling”
a substantial amount for the period. “Extract of a Letter form
South Carolina”; Cumming”s Manuscript, Ayer MS 204,
Newberry Library, Chicago, p. 21.
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8, 1730
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8, 1730; The cave is
marked on George Hunters map to the south side of the
Santee River slightly below the Township of Amelia
The Cherokee Path, mapped in 1730 by George Hunter,
the Surveyor-General of the Province of South Carolina, ran
for 130 miles from Charles Town and passed though the
Cherokee Lower and Middle Towns before terminating at
Settico in the Overhill Towns.
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30 1730
Veteran trader Ludovick Grant, who was in Keowee that
evening, left a report corroborating the events that occurred in
the Town House. see “Historical Relation of the Facts
Delivered by Ludovick Grant, Indian Trader to His
Excellency the Governor of South Carolina”, The South
Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Volume X
The named Europeans were Joseph Cooper, Ludovick
Grant, Joseph Barker, Gregory Haines, Daniel Jenkinson,
Thomas Goodale, William Cooper, William Hatton, and John
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8, 1730
Historical relation” Grant, p. 56
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8, 1730
Adair, James History of the American Indians, (New
York, 1974) p. 460
Long-term English traders also recognized this need for
full national endorsement. While discussing a failed transfer
of land from the Cherokee, Grant was to suggest that, the
reason for failure was “because of the head men were not
present.” Grant p. 64; for a discussion of the “pragmatic”
attitude by the Cherokee to external threats see Thomas,
Robert K., Cherokee Values and World View, University of
North Carolina 1958, esp. p 14
Boehm, Randolph, (ed.,) “Journal of the Commissioner
for Indian Affairs on his Journey to the Cherokees and his
Proceedings there”, Records of the British Colonial Office,
Class 5 Part 1:Westwood Expansion 1700-1783, Volume 12,
(Frederick, MD., 1972)
This harmony ethic has continued to be an important part
of Cherokee life. When John Gulick conducted research
among the Eastern Cherokee in the mid twentieth century, he
observed a similar need writing that
“When social decisions must be made, involving the
resolution of differing points of view, the aim is
circumspectly to work out a unanimous decision. An outvoted
minority is regarded as a source of conflict and disharmony.
Anyone whose views absolutely cannot be accommodated to
the otherwise unanimous decision simply withdraws from the
proceedings.” Gulick, John J., “The self-corrective service
and persistence in Conservation Eastern Cherokee culture” ,
Research Previews, (1959) p. 6
Fogelson Raymond D Cherokee Notions of Power”, in
Fogelson, Raymond D., and Adams, Richard N, (eds.,) The
Anthropology of Power: Ethnographic Studies from Asia,
Oceania, and the New World, (New York, 1977), pp. 189-90
Fogelson Raymond D Cherokee Notions of Power”, in
Fogelson, Raymond D., and Adams, Richard N, (eds.,) The
Anthropology of Power: Ethnographic Studies from Asia,
Oceania, and the New World, (New York, 1977)
“Account of the Cherrokee Indians, and of Sir Alexander
Cuming”s Journey Amongst Them”, The Historical Register,
Vol, XVI, No. LXI (1731), p. 3
Longe, Alexander “Small Postcript on the ways and
manners of the Indians called Cherokees” Southern Indian
Studies, Volume XXI, (October 1969), p. 39
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730 and
Thursday, October 8 1730
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8 1730
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8 1730
It must be remembered that the translator, or linguist, in
these negotiations was Ludovick Grant, a trader based in
Great Tellico who therefore had reason to promote the
importance of the leader of his Town,
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
British and Cherokee spatial understandings are examined
in my doctoral dissertation Space the Final Frontier: Spatial
Understandings in the eighteenth century American
Southeast, (University of California, Riverside, 2006)
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730; If we
compare this declaration of British spatial understanding, and
the sense of control that it contains, to the following quotation
from Robinson Crusoe upon his return to the island we find
some interesting parallels. “I shar”d the Island into Parts with
“em, reserv”d to my self the Property of the whole, but gave
them such parts respectively as they agreed on.” Both Crusoe
and Cumming, after claiming possession and control of the
physical and intellectual space in which they found
themselves, feel confident and able to redistribute that space
to others. Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe, (W.W. Norton,
1975) Shinagle, Michael, (ed.), p. 220
Colonel George Chicken was father to the George Chicken
who later accompanied Cumming.
“Colonel Chicken”s Journal to the Cherokee, 1725”
Mereness, Newton D., Travels in the American Colonies,
(New York, 1916), p. 101.
Ludovick Grant described Cumming”s “crown” as a “cap”
worn by beloved men which “resembles a wig and is made of
Possum”s Hair Dyed Red or Yellow.” Grant Historical
Relation, p. 57
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8 1730
The Daily Journal, Thursday, October 8 1730
Grant Historical Relation, p. 57
The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30, 1730
Cumming”s Manuscript, Ayer MS 204, Newberry Library,
Chicago, p. 22 and 26
Cumming reports that the “King, who had been just then
made at Ookunny” was the same person as the “King of
Keowee”, The Daily Journal, Wednesday, September 30,